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NFL officials review rule changes with New Orleans Saints

Numerous changes made to address player safety

NFL officials will enforce several new rules changes, and apply several points of emphasis, for the upcoming season as the league continues to make player safety a high priority, referee Walt Coleman said Thursday.

Coleman and a crew in town to observe the Saints' seventh training camp practice Thursday also showed the team a video which detailed examples of the new rules changes and points of emphasis.

Among the rules changes, runners and tacklers will be prohibited from initiating forcible contact with the crown of the helmet outside the tackle box. The elements present must be that the player has lined up his opponent, must lower his head and deliver a forcible blow with the crown of his helmet to any portion of the body of his opponent. The infraction will result in a 15-yard penalty and, possibly, the offender will be disciplined by the league.

Also, restrictions have been added to the defense on field-goal and point-after attempts, in order to protect players in a vulnerable position. Beginning this season the defense cannot have more than six players on the line of scrimmage on either side of the snapper when the ball is snapped. If it does, the result will be a 5-yard penalty for illegal formation. And defensive players are prohibited from pushing down linemen into the offensive formation. That will result in a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

The defense will be prohibited from blocking below the waist at any time during a down in which there is a scrimmage kick (including punts, field goals and point-after attempts). Previously, players on the line of scrimmage could block low. The kicking team can still block low until the ball is kicked.

Still another rule change will be that defensive players will be prohibited from lining up over the center on scrimmage kicks. Snappers gain additional protection this year – he will be considered defenseless and receive all the special protections of defenseless players. While he's snapping he can't be contacted in the head or with the crown, hairline or forehead parts of the helmet to any parts of the body. Delivering a direct blow to the snapper will be a foul.

The peelback block will be illegal anywhere in the field of play. Previously, it was illegal only outside the tackle box. The near shoulder must get completely across the front of the opponent's body in order to avoid the penalty. Offenders will be assessed a 15-yard penalty and potential discipline.

Players committing a clear violation of rules prohibiting contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless player shall be considered for suspension when the play involves an unobstructed path to his opponent – the opponent's position hasn't been significantly affected by any other player and the contact was clearly avoidable. If there's a mitigating factor, the player may not be suspended but he may be fined. If he's a repeat violator, he could be subject to league discipline.

Another rule is that all players, except kickers and punters, will be required to wear thigh and knee pads. All pads must be covered by the uniform and knee pads must cover the knee. Players in violation of the rule won't be allowed to play until the issue is corrected. If a player who has been removed returns without the proper equipment, it'll be a 5-yard penalty. A repeat violation will result in disqualification.

The tuck rule has been modified to state that any loss of control after the passer starts to tuck the ball back toward his body will be a fumble.

Also, a new rule has been implemented which stipulates that a play can still be reviewed after a coach erroneously throws his challenge flag. If a coach challenges a scoring play, turnover, play that began after the two-minute warning of either half or during an overtime period, that team will be charged a timeout. If the team is out of timeouts it'll be assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. But the play still can be reviewed.

Regarding points of emphasis, officials closely will monitor the hitting of players around the pile and on the ground. Such acts potentially will result in unnecessary roughness penalties.

Also, it is a foul when a runner grabs a defender's facemask and twists, turns or pulls it. It's a foul if a player grabs a player's facemask and controls it. If the mask is grabbed and not immediately released, a foul will be called. This applies to all players – runners and tacklers are treated the same.

And sportsmanship also will be emphasized. Game officials will pay attention to acts directed at an opponent that constitute taunting.

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